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Things Come Full Circle For Yankton, Mount Marty Standout – Yankton Daily Press

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Some passing clouds. Low 19F. Winds SSW at 10 to 15 mph..
Some passing clouds. Low 19F. Winds SSW at 10 to 15 mph.
Updated: October 31, 2023 @ 3:01 pm
Mount Marty College Hall of Famer Jason Nelson, right, is pictured with his wife, Jill, and their two children, Xavier (center left) and Easton. 
Yankton native Jason Nelson, right, was inducted into the Mount Marty College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2018. The former Lancer baseball standout and current Lancer assistant baseball coach was inducted with teammate Jeremy Grady (left), along with Laura (Wortmann) Morrison (center left) and Michelle (Amundson) Schumaker. 

Mount Marty College Hall of Famer Jason Nelson, right, is pictured with his wife, Jill, and their two children, Xavier (center left) and Easton. 
Yankton native Jason Nelson, right, was inducted into the Mount Marty College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2018. The former Lancer baseball standout and current Lancer assistant baseball coach was inducted with teammate Jeremy Grady (left), along with Laura (Wortmann) Morrison (center left) and Michelle (Amundson) Schumaker. 
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another installment in our ongoing ‘Where Are They Now?’ series, which highlights former area high school and college standouts.
It should’ve been a routine putout.
Andy Bernatow hopped off the mound and ran toward first base, where a ground ball was headed during a legion baseball game in the summer of 1995.
‘Uh oh,’ Bernatow remembers thinking.
The runner, Jason Nelson from Yankton, was in all-out sprint down the line.
“We had heard he was fast, but I hadn’t seen fast like that,” said Bernatow, a left-handed pitcher who had recently graduated from high school in Papillion, Nebraska.
It wasn’t supposed to be a close play.
“All of a sudden, the first baseman felt this presence running at him, and it ended up being a bang-bang play,” said Bernatow, who joked that Nelson was ruled out but was most likely safe.
It proved to be the first of a handful of meetings between the two men who would go on to become roommates in college and best friends. It’s a bond that continues to this day, a quarter century later, on the Mount Marty College baseball staff — Bernatow is the head coach, Nelson is an assistant.
— — —
Nelson’s journey has come full circle.
He didn’t expect it to happen that way, however.
A 1995 Yankton High School graduate, Nelson had been a multi-sport star for the Bucks, but ultimately chose to follow his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. With that in mind, he decided to attend Johnson County Community College in Kansas, to test himself against a high level of competition.
“At the time, recruiting was different, at least in South Dakota, so that was one of the reasons I went down there,” Nelson said last week.
“I wanted to see if I could get my name out there and get hooked up with someone bigger.”
Nelson, who had batted .358 during his freshman season, had no intentions of returning home.
Not until a familiar name called him, at least.
Bob Tereshinski, a former Yankton coach and head coach at Mount Marty College at the time, called Nelson in search of potential pitchers.
“At the last moment, he said, ‘By the way, I have a centerfielder position open,’” Nelson said. “It got me thinking.”
With Nelson wanting to pursue a career in physical therapy and the idea that his family in Yankton could watch him play, he eventually decided to transfer to Mount Marty. The move wasn’t going to derail his dream of being a professional player, he said.
“It got to the point where if I was good enough, they were going to come find me,” Nelson said.
Even at the time, Nelson was sure that the year away from Yankton ended up helping his career, he said.
“To this day, I tell people, I probably wouldn’t have been the same player if I didn’t leave,” Nelson said.
How so?
Seeing a different level of pitching, for one, aided him, he said.
“I was more knowledgeable about the game, and I wasn’t up there just swinging and using my ability,” Nelson said. “There was more to it.”
Already an above-average player in many respects, Nelson came back from his time in Kansas with one key difference, according to Bernatow, who by that time was himself a baseball player at Mount Marty.
“You could tell he always had an explosive swing and could run, but when he came back, you could visibly see that his arm was different,” Bernatow said.
If not for persistent hamstring issues, Nelson probably could’ve gone on to a professional career, Bernatow added.
“Everything was there,” Bernatow said.
— — —
By the time Nelson returned to Yankton, Tereshinski had things rolling at Mount Marty.
His baseball program was in the midst of three straight 30-win seasons (1994-96) and was on the way to four straight berths in the NAIA regional (1996-99).
“I knew going into it, they were really good leaders there and they held the program to a really high standard,” Nelson said.
That was something instilled in him right away as a Lancer, he added.
During Nelson’s three-year career (1997-99) at Mount Marty, the Lancers won the South Dakota-Iowa Conference (SDIC) tournament championship each year. Nelson was a first team All-SDIC selection all three seasons, and concluded his career with a .446 batting average and 46 home runs — both of which still rank first all-time.
“You don’t ever go out and seek things like that; you just go out and play,” Nelson said. “That was the biggest thing for me.
“I didn’t really set goals for myself, only internal, day-to-day goals.”
Nelson had a knack for the big moments, as well, according to Bernatow.
“His competitive nature was just that strong,” said Bernatow, who joked that Nelson hit more home runs than singles while in college.
“He loved to be up there in a 4-3 game where we were down and had a guy on second base.”
The roster during that run was filled with guys who knew the game very well and could self-motivate, according to Nelson.
“We were a lot better coaches to ourselves as a team, and would feed off of each other,” he said.
— — —
If there’s a certain phrase that Nelson tries to avoid in his role as a coach for his alma mater, it’s this: ‘Back when we played.’
“You don’t ever want to do that, because it’s not the same era,” said Nelson, who is in his 10th season as a MMC assistant. “That’s the hard part. You still have pride in it.”
For one thing, the old SDIC was different than Mount Marty’s current league, the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
“At the same time, it’s more pride in the school and what you wear,” Nelson said. “That’s why we always say, ‘Once a Lancer, always a Lancer.’”
Nelson, now 43, received his Master’s degree from South Dakota State University in 2002 and began his career as an athletic trainer. He spent time with the Orthopedic Institute in Sioux Falls and also spent three years as a certified athletic trainer with the Sioux Falls Canaries.
He also used to run the exercise program at Mount Marty, and still teaches three courses at his alma mater — including a Master’s course.
It was a career path he said he never envisioned.
“I didn’t want to become a teacher, but as I got into, I realized that athletic training — now evolving into strength and conditioning — is a bit like coaching,” Nelson said.
Now, though, he enjoys helping people feel better and helping them reach their maximum potential.
“That’s what drives me,” said Nelson, who lives in Yankton with his wife, Jill, and their two children.
Nelson, who was inducted into the Mount Marty Athletic Hall of Fame in 2018, also plays a critical role in the Lancer baseball program.
“I’m pretty fortunate,” said Bernatow, whose 16th season at the helm was cut short this spring by the coronavirus pandemic. Bernatow is the program leader with 365 career victories.
“When you talk about servant leadership, and being a good father and husband, he defines all of those things at a very high level,” Bernatow said.
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